Bart Ehrman’s latest book examines 'How Jesus Became God'

Apr. 02, 2014 @ 01:02 PM

“How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee”
by Bart D. Ehrman (HarperOne, $27.99, 404 pages)

Bart Ehrman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, has made a name for himself beyond UNC and beyond those who study religion.
His 2005 “Misquoting Jesus” was a New York Times best-seller and led to several more books and lots of attention. In the years since, he has spoken publicly on several occasions – locally and on television – about his work and his own views as well as the reactions they elicit. He used to wait until the end of the semester to tell his students what he believes, but now they can simply read about it. In his book about suffering, called “God’s Problem,” Ehrman wrote about how the questioning of God allowing suffering became a turning point for him, once an evangelical Moody Bible Institute student, becoming agnostic. That’s all background for readers of Ehrman’s historical works, the latest of which is one eight years in the making: “How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee.” It is newly published by HarperOne ($27.99, hardcover, 404 pages). The same time it came out, there was also a rebuttal book published by Zondervan called “How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature,” written by professors.
Ehrman gave a reading from “How Jesus Became God” and answered questions last week at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. His latest book takes readers through the New Testament references to Jesus as divine, and what it says and omits.
“In my books, generally I like to try to deal with big issues,” Ehrman told the crowd at Flyleaf. “And this is certainly big.”
Ehrman laid out the dominos of what would have happened if Jesus had not become known as God – no Christianity, no Constantine, no Roman state religion, no Middle Ages even, he said.
The Resurrection – belief that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven – changes everything Christologically, according to Ehrman. Audience questions after he read a few excerpts ranged from questioning how the doctrine of the Trinity came about to his writing process.
Ehrman said that “How God Became Jesus” is the first book he’s written for a broader audience in which he’s learned a lot. Other books he’s written – 20 of them – were about packaging scholarship he already learned. So what Ehrman learned researching this book, for one, is that in ancient Rome, wealthy mean adopted adult sons and gave them higher status than their biological sons, he said.
Ehrman also cautioned against those who get Christian history wrong because they got their information from Dan Brown’s fictional book and movie, “The DaVinci Code.” Ehrman wrote a book about that, too, in 2006, called “Truth and Fiction in The DaVinci Code.”
In “The DaVinci Code,” Ehrman said, the Council of Nicea in 325 votes on if Jesus is God.
“That’s completely wrong,” he said. “Virtually everybody who was Christian in the 4th century believed Jesus was God. The question was, in what sense was he God?”
Ehrman was asked to explain the Holy Spirit.
“The deal with the Holy Spirit is, in the Bible the spirit shows up a lot and seems different than God,” Ehrman said, to begin an explanation.
Another thing Ehrman learned in researching “How Jesus Became God” is controversial he said, and hesitated before explaining. He said that after a person was crucified, Romans left the body on the cross for scavengers, so Jesus being taken down and buried in a tomb would be an exception.
“I think it is unlikely Jesus was given a decent burial,” Ehrman said, and more likely his body tossed in a pit somewhere. Ehrman’s conclusion wasn’t something he was looking for or expecting, he said.
Ehrman is a prolific writer, and his process is filling out outlines and outlines, then writing 14,000 or more words a day as “it’s all in my head.” Plus, he usually writes books about things he already knows about, he said, and the research is finished before he starts writing.
Ehrman was asked during his Flyleaf Books reading how Christianity caught on as a religion.
“That’s the next book,” Ehrman said. He said that Christianity is both missionary and exclusivistic, in that Christians converted people not only to Christianity but away from other faiths.

: 7 p.m. April 15
WHERE: The Regulator Bookshop
720 Ninth St., Durham